Archive for the 'Thesis' Category

Classes, Spring 2007

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

The final line-up is more or less decided. This will be the least number of classes (4), least number of weekly class hours (7.5) and least number of final exams (1) I’ve ever had. Additionally, I don’t have any classes on Monday or Friday. I know this all probably sounds really idyllic, but somehow I can’t quite shake the sense of strangeness – it feels peculiar to be taking so few classes, precisely during the last chance I have to take these classes as an undergraduate. It’s not really like me.

At the same time, I didn’t manage to find anything else that I really wanted to take. And more importantly, the thesis-writing is like taking 5 classes at the same time. Seriously, it feels like I’ve done more work over the past two months than I’ve ever had to do for all the classes I’ve taken in a single semester combined. Awful. I really pray I have something I’m proud of at the end of this process… which is looming. *nervous jitter*

Incidentally, this semester I’m only taking classes with professors I’ve had before, so they’re all-stars in my book ūüôā Here’s the list:

ESPP 90j: Environmental Crises and Population Flight. With the distinguished Prof L, from my wonderful freshman seminar. The topic seems right up my alley, given the close links with the junior seminar paper I wrote last year, and the overlap with my thesis work.

Literature 104: On Theory. This counts for the last upper-level class I need for a secondary field in French… even though it’s conducted in English ūüôā Taught by Prof C, who has the distinction of being the professor I’ve taken the most number of classes from – four, including this one.

Econ 1010b: Macroeconomic Theory. Despite the abysmal CUE guide ratings this class has received in the past, I’m hopeful that the material will not be too difficult. Also, Prof G is teaching the course for the first time this year, and I already like her a lot from having taken her course on cultural economics last semester. Plus, this course would also help me qualify for a secondary field in economics, should I choose to receive that.

ESPP 99r: Thesis seminar. Blearrrghggh. At least this doesn’t actually have class meetings. Just one-on-one sessions with the ever-helpful Prof M.

And that’s the line-up for this year.

Something lost, something gained…

Monday, February 5th, 2007

A rather eventful, hectic sort of day.¬† Mainly it seemed hectic because I constantly wanted to just lie down and relax.¬† Right from the moment I dragged myself out bed at 6.15am, to turn off my alarm.¬† The interviews turned out successfully, judging by the outcome… at least for me.¬† That’s good news, I know, to have a solid, competitive and¬†compensated summer internship offer with a top outfit in a great location.¬† If only the elation could be enjoyed unalloyed by thoughts of March and August, untempered by a mixed result, unaffected by the want to go to bed.¬† I’m also vaguely miffed at having missed the celebratory lunch.

It helped to sit in Nathan’s massage chair for about twenty minutes, although later at Lodge the sensation came back to haunt me in an unpleasant fashion against the hard, straight seat backs.¬† Lodge meeting tonight was…¬† something quite new.¬† The experience of having to push through that endless, narrow corridor-catwalk jammed full of bejewelled, tuxedoed¬†officers (average age: 45) from other lodges was quite intimidating and discomfitting.¬† Then the prodigious feat of memory and protocol displayed by¬†R.W. T. was breathtaking (not that Lodge isn’t usually impressive that way).¬† Finally, the banquet that followed¬†was far fancier than previous events.¬† It reminded me of the European leg of world tour, what with the enormous platters of cheese, fruit and¬†cold cuts interspersed with serving stations for whiskey, cocktails, wine, juice and soda.¬† My personal favorites were the circulating trays of beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres and bacon-wrapped scallops (yum!).¬† And after an hour, just as¬†everyone was getting seated, I ran away to avoid the tedium of a two-hour long meal (especially since I was already stuffed)…¬† but not before lingering to hear the jazz duo (double bass and keyboard) play Antonio Carlos Jobim’s sublime¬†Wave.

I did no thesis work today ūüôĀ

PS: I still *heart* cold winters, but only with the assurance of heated interior spaces and the promise of warmer days ahead.

You learn something new everyday…

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

…and it’s not always good news.

So as a little break from going blind trying to extract information from UNODC* documents on their website…¬† I proceeded to continue going blind trying to extract information from UNESCO** documents on their website.¬† And I learn to my chagrin, that of the 192 member states of the UN General Assembly, 191 are members of UNESCO.¬† And the one, inexplicable and highly visible exception is… Singapore.¬† ???

A brief web search reveals no¬†satisfactory reason for this anomaly, which puzzles me.¬† And also annoys me, since it means I’m automatically ineligible to even apply for certain positions within the organization.¬† How terribly bizarre.¬† Perhaps I’ll ask the DPM if I meet him at some upcoming event.

* United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
** United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Ok, it’s time to leave the museum.¬† When I walked in here about 6 hours ago I remember musing about the irony of how I actually somewhat envy the idea of working at a museum such as the Louvre in Paris, like an acquaintance of mine currently does.¬† Truth is the collections here are pretty fascinating, beautiful and important in their own right – for example practically just outside of HUCE are many extremely precious plaster casts of mesoamerican steles and other monuments that have since been damaged or destroyed.

And now I actually leave.

Thursday is the new Friday.

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

I didn’t have any classes today, or rather I didn’t have any classes to shop today.

Instead I gave a rather intimate lengthy admissions tour, and then went to lunch with Ming at the Signet.  I hope we both make it past Monday, given that we both really want it now.

I’ve accomplished very little else, and yet (or thus) I’m feeling rather deflated and listless.¬† I know that probably means I need exercise, but I don’t really feel like it.¬† And I also did jog over to the admissions office this morning, which is better than nothing.

In other news, I went to Prof S. and successfully requested unrestricted swipe-card access to HUCE, so I can now spend even longer hours there through the weekend.  Joy!

In fact, I think I’ll head there now.

PS: Paris fashion week (women’s RTW FW07/08) starts today!

The continuing saga

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Writing a thesis means:

(2) Constantly discovering, well beyond the point of reasonable-ness, that there is some major, up-to-the-minute, extensively-researched¬†published¬†paper or¬†book¬†that appears to do everything you were hoping to accomplish in your project, except with much more fancy empirical models and datasets backed up by years of in-field research and intimate familiarity with the key players.¬† Gaah!!!¬† How did I not know about this World Bank Report until yesterday??¬† I’ve even read some of the contributing authors extensively elsewhere…¬† Oh well.

The day before tomorrow

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Shopping week starts tomorrow, which means a new, and final, college semester for me. What a frightening thought. I’ve loved college far too much to want to be done, and at the same time I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what this school and city have to offer.

And speaking of shopping week, when some departments and professors compete for students, I *love* this email that was sent out on the House open-list advertising Spring courses in sociology… it actually makes me want to take a whole bunch of them (warning, lots of Harvard-speak ahead):

Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2007 12:34:25 -0500
From: [Name removed for privacy]
Subject: [Quincy-open] shopping for courses? or a new concentration?
To: Quincy-open

Hey Quincy,

Still looking for an elective? Or a new concentration? Or one of these new-fangled “secondary concentrations”?

The Sociology department has a lot to offer; feel free to contact me or another Soc tutor with questions or stop by at the Course, Career and Advising night on Thursday!

Sociology 10: Introduction To Sociology (Jay Gabler). At last, the answer to the age-old question: What the @#*! is sociology?!?! It happens to be a way to understand all sorts of social phenomena, from Puritan witch hunts to suburban angst to strip-dancing. All this and more (except the last part, unless you tip the teaching staff generously) in WJH 1, Mondays and Wednesdays from 11-12.

Sociology 19: Reinventing Boston (Chris Winship). Boston was once thought to be doomed to a future of blight and decay. How did Boston escape New Haven’s fate? And can we blame Yale? The answer to the second question is obviously yes. The answer to the first question can be found on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 2:30 in WJH 105.

Sociology 24: Introduction to Social Inequality (Jason Beckfield). Bound to be fascinating, even for Quad residents who feel that no introduction is necessary. Takes a comparative perspective, so you can finally find out why sociologists keep moving to Sweden. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 to 1:00 in scenic Sever 214.

Sociology 67: Visualizing Social Problems in Documentary Film and Photography (Tamara Kay). If you were moved and outraged by Aunt Mitzi’s video of Thanksgiving dinner, just wait until you see the social problems WE have to show you! From war and poverty to environmental degradation, all the stars are out on Wednesdays from 1-3 PM in WJH 105.

Sociology 107: The American Family (Martin Whyte). The American family is often thought to be changing in ways unfortunate for children and society–but if you think families in the 50s used to sit around the dinner table and sing Kumbaya, you’ve got another think coming. That think will be arriving in WJH 4, Mondays and Wednesdays at 1 PM.

Sociology 153: Media and the American Mind (Jason Kaufman). Cassandra Wibben-Meyer took this course in spring 2004, and Prof. Kaufman is STILL quoted in her Facebook profile. What else do you need to know? Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 AM in WJH 105.

Sociology 172: Children, Culture, and Media (Jay Gabler). Three good reasons to take this course: (1) Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are assigned reading; (2) lectures are held in the new CGIS, which is the answer to the question, “What does Harvard DO with all that money?”; (3) finally find out the TRUTH about Tinky-Winky and SpongeBob! Tuesdays
and Thursdays from 10-11 AM, CGIS S-010.

[Name removed for privacy]
Harvard University Sociology PhD Candidate
[Contact details removed for privacy]
33 Kirkland St. Cambridge, MA 02138

Writing a thesis means:

(1) For the first time you discover that the 15 million items in the largest academic library system in the world are not quite comprehensive enough for your research needs. Currently, the book at the top of my why-isn’t-it-in-HOLLIS-?!?! wish-list is Les Territoires de l’Opium (2002) by Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy. Anyone out there happen to have a copy they could send my way? ūüôā

(to be continued…)

The Paris Menswear FW 07/08 shows are winding down… and I haven’t really had a chance to scrutinize the collections carefully, although overall they seem less interestingthan the Milan collections from a style viewpoint. Some of the same stories from Milan are being extended in Paris – oversized sweaters and trailing knit sleeves, tailoring, futurism, experiments in volume… here are my assorted, preliminary reactions to what I’ve seen of the shows:
– It’s a little shocking that this season Hermes showed all of one bag out of over 40 looks.
– The menswear designer for the house of Lanvin seems to have fixated on a particular shade of violet last seen on Stefano Pilati’s Spring 2007 womenswear runway for Yves Saint Laurent (literally planted with hundreds of violets).
– For grooming, Gaultier showed the most amazing hair, inspired by the 1975 film Shampoo.
– Louis Vuitton, one big yawn.
– John Galliano presented a completely over-the-top menswear show featuring models dressed as post-apocalyptic-road-warrior-samurai-tribesmen, giant metal headdresses and all — but at least there were actual, somewhat wearable clothes shown. At its best moments it reminded me of the most desireable clothes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while the low points recalled the worst wardrobe of Waterworld and Planet of the Apes.
Actually, John Galliano is having an especially strong year as a designer/artist. His sculptural creations for Christian Dior–inspired by origami and Madame Butterfly–which showed last week at the Paris haute couture FW07/08 shows were simply breathtaking. I was especially inspired by the towering combination clog-wedges and the clog-stillettos. Amazing.

Back to work… here at HUCE ūüôā

Food coma… complete.

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

I’m fairly annoyed by having been knocked out by dinner for the last couple of hours. But what can you do when you haven’t really eaten a real meal in days* (and dropped two pounds as a result), and then the dining hall insists on serving utterly irresistible offerings like spinach with fresh garlic, grilled salmon with lemon butter, meatballs and best of all, chicken and sausage jambalaya? I *heart* jambalaya. And I was starving too. Ugh, ate way too much.

* The lack of real food recently is mostly due to a combination of bad habits – sleeping through meals, being too lazy to walk the three minutes to a neighboring dining hall (ours is closed for the week), and working through mealtimes.

I’m heading to NYC tomorrow, which will be very fun, and probably very foolish. What am I doing leaving my thesis work??

And today my academic advisor gave me some good news, and some great news. The great news is that something else I was concerned about is not relevant any more. The good news is I now have a bunch of leads for ways to make my thesis more rigorous… it seems to involve reading and referencing highly theoretical and empirical work, the kind where authors use common words in completely unfamiliar new ways. Like “vector”, and “policy image”, “surface” and “punctuated equilibrium”. In a way this makes me feel like I’m starting from scratch with reading, since all these papers are much less mass-audience-economist-time-magazine-like than the current pitch of my (few) thesis pages.

“Could you spell ‘Boserup‘?” – ‘click’

Back to work.

Night at the Museum

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Nope, this is not another movie review. Instead, I’m currently in Harvard’s Geological Museum building (part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History and Peabody Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology complex). I’m here after hours, as I sometimes like to be, working at the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE). That’s where my concentration offices are based, so it’s my academic “home” on campus. Taking the efficient, friendly staff as a given, I really like HUCE – it’s a posh, comfortable new space with all the amenities a student looking for a workspace could hope for, including an almost-always-empty computer lab which outranks most of the computer labs I’ve ever used with it’s pitch-perfect mix of aesthetics and functionality. I really should bring my camera with me sometime – I especially like the view of the chemistry labs in the next-door buildings from the meeting room at the Center – very graphic and colorful, plus it’s fun to watch all the grad students in there running experiments late into the night. I’m sure my grad-student friends will relate to this, minus the “fun” part, perhaps.

So I’m here working on my senior thesis, which is becoming increasingly and delinquently behind schedule. This Intercession period between semesters is really one of the final opportunities to devote substantial, uninterrupted time to the project. Hopefully I’ll make enough progress to ensure that firstly, I don’t become one of the 1-in-6 students who never completes their attempted thesis, and secondly, that I have a good shot for honors.

Although to be honest, graduating with honors somehow no longer seems to matter much to me, despite the fact that I am still hoping for, and working hard towards Latin honors. In truth, while I’ve always somewhat wished that I could be better motivated by extrinsic honors and motivations, somehow the goal of showing a perfect score or having nice things to put on a resume never seemed sufficient to drive me enough to actually memorize multiplication tables, or to give up extracurriculars in order to concentrate on inorganic chemistry. At least that’s what I’m saying now – this could all just be cognitive dissonance trying to rationalize away the foolish recklessness and laziness of years past. Nonetheless, as I’ve reasoned before, in the end I’ve had pretty much everything I’ve ever truly wanted, in essence if not in its originally conceived form. I’m very much thankful for God’s grace in all that, of course. But focusing on what that potentially means about my internal, probably subconscious, mental calculus, perhaps the key thing is to figure out what I really want and why.

It’s probably true that I already tend to perform far too much meta-analysis – what is experience worth; what does this choice mean; how does this development fit into the bigger picture? These questions can be tiring to ponder, especially when few people want to listen to you explore them – of course they have better things to do, and analysis takes time, time which could be spent, easily and profitably (ostensibly) on other scheduled tasks and amusements. Never mind that, for me, much of such analysis leads to a “everything-is-meaningless” or “everything-is-equally-meaningful” (potentially) conclusion that is mainly distinguished from existentialism or nihilism by cheerful optimism and, more importantly, faith in God’s benevolent, omnipotent and active existence.

Coming back to the thesis-writing, this aforementioned general inability to ignore the possible larger implications is hampering my ability to write, among other issues. As I was telling Lorraine today, it’s difficult to think of this as “three longer final papers” or some other more manageable and less intimidating framework. I can’t avoid the sense that what I’m writing about is important, and the end product should actually represent the best possible analysis and recommendations I can produce. It’s easier to be flippant about opinion pieces on ancient history or literary analysis, or even term papers on morality and public policy; in those cases it almost doesn’t matter what you think since the effect on the world will be close to nil, one way or another. But that’s not the case when it’s a piece of work that has a chance (albeit small) of being taken seriously and affecting the world, and shaping your future research and career (considerably larger chance), and will ultimately be a sort of calling card for your beliefs and analytical abilities. Throw in the predictive component of what I think I will write (and everyone knows the pitfalls of trying to soothsay the future), and maybe my apprehension will appear less immediately irrational.

On a happier note, I think I made some good progress today, although I didn’t write anything substantial. And now I shall go read some more.

Earlier when I went to the bathroom, which is just past the slick “climate change” exhibit , the motion sensor lights didn’t detect me, so I proceeded in near-darkness. You can see how familiar I am with this space. Anyhow, I was especially impressed that both the motion-sensor flush and the motion sensor taps came on, even in the dark, with no special effort on my part. How’d they do that?? Anyone who understands the technology, feel free to enlighten me.

The problem with having short hair, which I’d completely forgotten about, is that after a mere four weeks it looks straggly and ready for some professional maintenance.

I refuse. No thank you. I told myself I’d wait till after June. Ok, maybe I’ll see about fixing it for graduation. Maybe.

… and a Happy New Year

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Belated new year greetings to everyone!

I’m now back in Cambridge, after some 30 hours of travelling and a solid twelve hours of sleeping off the jetlag.

Being home was good. On the final day I was home, the usual just-in-time swirl of events was particularly enjoyable. I drove my sister to school just after 7am, then went to the dentist with my mother. After that, a quick nap preceeded my hurried trip to town for a series of interviews. I was being interviewed for my dream summer internship, which I will almost certainly accept if they make a good offer. The interview cycle was pretty intense, particularly because I was there for a very compressed interview cycle, where each interviewer would decide whether I qualified to be seen by the next, more senior interviewer. So after every round I was left in the conference room to wait for the result as delivered by the coordinating HR officer. Quite the experience. I passed the time by reading “Le Probleme de l’Opium en Iran”, the bit of thesis-reading I’d brought with me. Thankfully I made it through to the final round, which was very pleasant, although I have yet to learn the final result. As I said during the interviews, I’m not worried regardless. I’m sure something will work out for the summer, whether it’s this internship or something else. After leaving the gleaming office tower, I headed to one of the newest (and largest) mall complexes to pick up a few things and also to meet Charles and Lynn for dinner. I’m glad I got to catch up with them (and also to more extensively explore Vivocity). From there, it was a quick ride home, an almost-quicker packing job and then off to the airport for the 30 hour journey back to my dorm.

And now I shall go unpack, in preparation for the next week of paper-writing and exam preparation.

PS: I’m so very happy for Flora and her engagement – congratulations!!

Home for the holidays

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

A belated Merry Christmas to everyone! And a happy new year too ūüôā

It’s nice to be home, the interminable torrential rains notwithstanding. I have never before heard of flash floods in well-drained Singapore. Floods!! At least they haven’t threatened any lives or homes yet.

I’ve made my way very quickly through my crave-list of local food. In the mere three days since I’ve been home, I’ve feasted (in moderation!) on well over a dozen varieties of hawker fare. Yum yum yum.

I wish I felt more secure about the direction my thesis is heading in. And I wish I had more time to do research and ruminate. Oooh, I can feel little knots of anxiety and twinges of panic beginning at the very thought of thesis. *shudder* On the upside, I’ve read a bit and written a bit, so the time hasn’t been a complete wash, at any rate.

I had a bizarre little dream during an earlier nap, where for some inexplicable reason I was tranferring to Yale for my senior year. On the bus over from Harvard with all the other ex-Harvardians who were transferring, I was almost successful in rationalizing this choice, but once we arrived at Yale’s campus and I suddenly realized I would never be part of Harvard’s Class of 2007, I was filled with such violent grief that I woke up. Strange, no? And of course I spent about five minutes pondering the implications of that dream-experience, through the lens of the “identity-prescription” literature we’ve been covering in my cultural economics class. That class is now completely finished with, since I chose to take the final exam on the last day of classes before the break.